This is the second post of what will be a three part series on the terminology used in the climate debate to define individuals and groups of people that share a common position. The first post surveyed responses from science and environmental writers on two common terms used in the climate debate: "skeptic" and "denier." This second post will discuss the intellectually inconsistent use of "denier" as a pejorative term. In the climate discourse, "denier" has become widely adopted by climate "hawks," liberal climate bloggers, and some scientists. Defenders of the term insist that
denialism is not a priori meant to invoke Holocaust denial, but rather describes an attitude and set of behaviors that are common among many groups that reject mainstream scientific and/or historical concepts.
The argument being that denial of global warming is a form of denialism no different than denial of the Holocaust, evolution, the HIV virus, and germ theory. With liberals, though, there appears to be a double standard in usage of the term "denier." For example, I've long wondered why Bill Maher isn't derided as a "denier" and why liberals don't call the Huffington Post a "denialist" outlet. Maher is a comedian and talk-show host who last year famously advised against getting the swine flue shot. Over the years he has been an outspoken opponent of the seasonal flu vaccine. Here he is in 2005, railing against "western medicine" and vaccines on the Larry King show. You'd think that if anyone deserved to be labeled a "denier," it would be Maher. (Incidentally, Maher's rant against the swine flu vaccine last year triggered so much backlash that he felt compelled to respond with this teach the controversy post.) But I'm not seeing anyone labeling Maher a denier. To be fair, plenty of liberals are dismayed at Maher's quackery. But he's mostly called a "crank" for his anti-vaccination nonsense and opposition to western medicine. No broad brush tarring as a "denier." (I could also make the same case for Robert Kennedy Jr., especially since he seems to get special dispensation from liberals.) As for the hugely trafficked Huffington Post (which takes its name from the liberal pundit and socialite Arianna Huffington), it has become "since its inception a bastion of pseudoscience," a crazy "rabbit hole of anti-science," or to put it more gently, a forum for all sorts of wacky views on alternative medicine and immunization. What it's not, of course, is a "denialist" communications vehicle. It can't be, because "denialism" is...well...not associated with enlightened liberal thinking, right? Arianna Huffington can't be a denialist any more than Robert Kennedy Jr. Liberals calling liberals denialists? Nah, you're not going to see that. Meanwhile, climate denialism is treated uniquely as part of of some larger conservative derangement syndrome, that, oh yeah, threatens the future of the world. Why aren't Bill Maher and the Huffington Post labeled similarly as "denialists" when they promulgate misinformation and myths that threaten public health? No, I'm not saying that liberals ought to be more more evenhanded in the way they throw around the term "denier." What I wish, though, has been said best by this blogger, who writes that
both liberals and conservatives alike must own up to their own extremists. Liberals must own up to the fact that they don't have a universally-solid grasp on scientific truth, and just like the right wingers, we have people and movements within the left wing that are cranky and denialist. I would say left wing crankery includes animal rights extremism, altie/new age woo, and anti-technology Luddites. Bill Maher is one of these cranks (he scores 3/3), and if the liberals want to represent themselves as truly pro-science we must make a concerted effort to reject the unscientific beliefs of these crackpots.
That includes the cranks that happen to be liberal icons, too.